“Do you have a nickname you go by? How do you say it again?”
For those of us with non-American names, introducing ourselves can feel awkward and isolating. But with more immigrant families residing in the United States, non-Anglican names are becoming more common. Still, tolerance and accommodation of foreign name pronunciation remain minimal in American society.
I’ve always loved my name. It has both cultural and family meaning, and growing up, I always thought it sounded light and crisp and sweet on my mother’s tongue. Although Spanish was my first language, I began introducing myself with an American pronunciation as a little girl in order to make my friends and teachers more comfortable.
Before I could blink, my name had disappeared and been replaced by a dense, hard string of intonations. Unconsciously, my brothers began to use the alternate pronunciation as well. Maybe it’s just a name, but for a young girl, a name is an important thing. This unwanted experience is shared by many Americans, and the pressure to adopt an Americanized nickname or name pronunciation has to end.
Cultural assimilation in the form of name choice is common for many immigrants and their children. Many children in the United States anglicize their names once they are enrolled in school, while others simply introduce themselves with an alternate, Americanized pronunciation.
As reported by NPR, actress Chloe Bennet defended her name change in 2017, stating that “I had to pay my rent, and Hollywood is racist and wouldn’t cast me with a last name that made them uncomfortable.”
According to the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, those with easy-to-pronounce names are perceived more positively than those with difficult-to-pronounce names, and this holds for situations such as voting preference and occupational status.
Furthermore, according to The Economist, name Americanization significantly improves labor market chances and has an overall positive economic impact on immigrants. Although systemic linguistic discrimination may be difficult to police and control, Americans can still become perceptive to the importance of learning someone’s name correctly.
To this day, introducing myself is a bit of a pain. My first day of school always consists of questions and stutters while teachers go down their role call lists. I still make up a name when I’m ordering coffee, just because it’ll always be more efficient.
But I’ve begun introducing myself to people with confidence and stopped butchering my own name. Proper name pronunciation is not just good etiquette — it’s also an important representation of culture and identity. It is finally time that America becomes willing to struggle over, and attempt to pronounce, non-American names. All Americans should introduce themselves confidently, and the rest of America must be willing to listen and learn.